self careMuch education is available on Alzheimer’s Disease care, and rightly so. More than five million Americans have it. Often overlooked, however, is care for the 15.4 million caregivers who provide more than 17 billion hours of assistance each year. For them, the health risks posed by caregiving can be just as devastating as the disease. A 1999 study by Shultz and Beach reveals a disturbing statistic. The spouse of a person with dementia between the ages of 66 and 96 who is experiencing mental or emotional strain has a 63 percent higher risk of death than a person of the same age who is not a caregiver (Shultz & Beach, 1999).

There is no instruction manual for the husbands, wives, sons, and daughters to care for themselves while caring for a person suffering from dementia. Everyone knows during an airline emergency you must place an oxygen mask on yourself before helping others. So why don’t caregivers follow the same advice?

The recognition of caregiver stress is the first step towards reducing it. Caregivers must honestly ask themselves. Do I get enough rest? Do I verbally or physically lash out at my loved one? Do I sometimes feel sad or guilty about my care?  Has my use of alcohol or tobacco increased?

A caregiver must learn they cannot change the behavior of a person suffering from dementia. They must be able to distinguish between what is within their power to change and what is not. Frustration is a warning sign the caregiver is trying to change things that will not change.

It’s important for the caregiver to set realistic goals like making doctor’s appointments, taking steps to keep their loved one from wandering, or helping a family member write memoirs. A caregiver can ensure their own health by accepting what they can change, finding peaceful ways to enjoy time with their loved one, and providing as safe an environment as possible.

Our Guest Blogger this week is Tom Knight, Center Director, Texas AHEC East – North Central Region.


Shultz, R. & Beach, S. (1999). Caregiving as A Risk for Mortality: The Caregiver Health Effects Study. JAMA, 282, 23, 2259-60. Copy of text available at

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